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Conan Doyle und der Fall Edalji

West Germany 1966
produced by
Max Gierke for Elan-Film/ZDF
directed by Karl-Heinz Bieber
starring Paul Klinger, Barbara Schmid, Alexander Golling, Alfons Höckmann, Harry Engel, Edburga Christin, Richard Lauffen, Paula Denk, Hans Elwenspoek, Kurt Hepperlin, Harald Baerow, Mathilde Zedler, Karl Striebeck, Ellen Frank, Hans Zesch-Ballot, Peter Mönch, Friedrich Maurer, Hartmut Reck, Harry Hertzsch
written by Alexandra Becker, Rolf Becker, music by Rolf Unkel

Arthur Conan Doyle

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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A framing story has a journalist (Hartmut Reck) research the life of Arthur Conan Doyle in the archives of his newspaper to honour Sherlock Holmes' 75th birthday, and surprisingly, the registrar (Harry Hertzsch) seems to know about the author's accomplishments without even having to take a look at the files. And he also knows about a real life crime Doyle solved back in the day ...

It's the early 20th century, and Arthur Conan Doyle (Paul Klinger) has grown tired of being associated with Sherlock Holmes, especially since he has not only written a vast body of work not featuring the detective, including some historical books, he also has accomplishments in sports and politics to show for himself - so when he's asked by Mrs. Edalji (Paula Denk) to get her son George (Harry Engel) out of jail who has wrongly be accused of animal mutilations, his answer at first is a resolute no, as he insists he's nothing like the character he created. But both his fiancée Jean (Barbara Schmid) and his right-hand man Wood (Alfons Höckmann) see there's something just about Mrs. Edalji's request and something wrong with the case, so Doyle starts to investigate, and finds not all is in order with the evidence - and as soon as the news gets out that he does so, Edalji is released ... which is not a good thing, as his name isn't exonerated, and he might never be permitted as a lawyer again thus. So Doyle starts to investigate further, and finds out much of the accusations against Edalji actually have to do with him being of half-Indian heritage, and he's said to be a pagan killing animals for evil rituals, even though his father (Richard Lauffen) is a pastor and has been for many years. There's also a series of hateful letters, often containing death threats, that have been attributed to Edalji, even though there's no reason for him having written them - and eventually, Doyle finds out there is a man in town who's, well, more than a little suspicious, and while the local police captain (Hans Elvenspoek) blocks Doyle's investigations for xenophobic reasons, there's an inspector (Kurt Hepperlin) more sympathetic to the affair who sees to it that Doyle gets all the evidence he needs. It's not enough for Edalji to be retried in court, as such a practice was then unheard of in the British justice system, but Edalji gets cleared in the court of public opinion, and the case led to the creation of the Court of Criminal Appeal.

 

Now while much of this movie is of course dramatized, and Arthur Conan Doyle's role in the case is overstated, as is his immersion in the character of Sherlock Holmes - after all, it's fair to say that Doyle's interest might have come more from political than investigative point of view -, but the Edalji case is real, as is the creation of the Court of Criminal Appeal as a consequence. But of course, if you stick to the truth too closely, you more likely than not will get a boring movie ...

As for the film on hand, what's really commendable is that it makes xenophobia a theme, back in the day when that was not a given. Other than that though, the movie's just average TV entertainment, well enough made (apart from a few to many microphone shadows) to keep one watching, but on a narrative level, the Sherlock Holmes-angle is hammered home just a bit too bluntly, while the actual case doesn't really offer that many hurdles, and certainly little in Holmesian deduction, and some solutions seem to signal themselves from miles away or come along too conveniently. It's not at all an awful movie mind you, just not really memorable either.

 

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review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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